I was a Phys Ed teacher. I loved my job and the school principal repeatedly reminded me to join the SED, the communist party. “How can you be a teacher if you are not able to pass on the ideology of communism to your students?” Without being a member you had no chance for advancement and risked your job security. But so far I had resisted the pressure.
On October 4th something drastic happened which drove me to the decision to leave East Germany like so many thousands of others were doing. Early the next morning I took the train to Berlin. Just outside Berlin proper, in Bernau, all the passengers had to leave the train, line up at a table to have passports checked by police and then continue on with the S-Bahn (city train) to the inner city. The “Wall” had not been built yet so the city train still stopped at some West Berlin stations. Waiting for my passport to be checked, the city train pulled in. When it started moving again I lost my nerve and started running towards it. The police had shooting orders for people trying to escape. Two shots were fired. They missed, either by accident or by design. We will never know. If witnesses claimed they missed on purpose the shooter would be severely punished, put in jail or even shot. Two Berliner men held the automatically closing train doors open and pulled me into the last wagon. I expected the train to be stopped…..
Those two Berliners told me to get out at the next station which happened to be in the “West Sector”. I had to wait for another train, one not going through the “East Sector”, to Marienfelde. This was the place where one had to register in West Germany. I was thunderstruck by the long line-up of people; everybody who had escaped this day was in line yet it was still only very early in the afternoon. Most had no luggage at all or only a small bag, some didn’t even have jackets or coats. I moved forward with a young dental assistant, a nice girl who hoped to be sent to the Black Forest since she had relatives there. I had no idea where I would end up. We stuck together and were given a bunk bed in a room with only five other bunk beds. I took the upper one and kept my coat on top of my blanket and my shoes close to the wall. We had been warned to look after our few belongings because things “disappeared”. Most other rooms had fifteen or more bunk beds. We felt so very lucky. But don’t even ask about bathrooms or showers, – it was all very well organised but very simple. There was an air of relief, but not much talking. After our experiences in East Germany nobody trusted anybody. We were afraid to say anything. What if the Russians were coming?
Most girls in our room were “processed” as it was called within a few days. Everyday new ones were occupying the beds. I was the only one kept there for three weeks. We had been told that on Oct. 5th over 16.000 people had escaped, not all through Berlin though. I was repeatedly interviewed by the Americans, the English and the French officers but in the end I could not tell them more than I already had. Actually, through their questions I learned about military installations on the Island of Ruegen I had not even imagined. Finally they decided to fly me out to Hannover while my final destination was supposed to be Dortmund. My first flight was not exactly a flight into the sunset but what all of us thought of as FREEDOM. New challenges were awaiting me in the “golden West” as we “easties” called it.
You want to know what happened on October 4th that drove me to leave my family, my hometown, the job I enjoyed, my beloved boat and all my kayaking buddies? For that, dear reader, you’ll have to read my book We Don’t Talk About That…